Stults staking early claim to rotation spot

Stults staking early claim to rotation spot

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Eric Stults has been around long enough to realize there is not much reason to put too much stock into the statistics compiled through the first two appearances of the spring season. But as the veteran left-hander continues his battle to gain one of Atlanta's two open rotation spots, he has a right to be encouraged by the frequency with which he has induced ground balls over the past week.

While working three innings of one-run ball during Tuesday's 3-2 win over the Mets, Stults recorded five groundouts, including two that led to double-play turns. The southpaw has totaled nine groundouts, including four double plays, over five strong innings during his first two appearances of the Grapefruit League season.

"I'm a guy that tends to get more fly balls than ground balls," Stults said. "So that was the focus coming into camp. I wanted to see how many ground balls I could get. It's helping me out. The double plays have been huge for me. I think it has eliminated longer innings and, obviously, eliminated damage."

Stults had totaled four scoreless innings this year before falling victim to the impressive bat control Travis d'Arnaud showed when he successfully executed a hit-and-run by tomahawking a high fastball to right field for a one-out single in Tuesday's sixth inning.

If Stults extends his success over the next few weeks, he seems destined to garner one of the two vacancies in Atlanta's rotation.

"I've got to do my work and go out and compete," Stults said. "Whether there is one spot, two spots or five spots, [the competition] is going to make everybody better. We all want to be successful and be a part of this team."

Odds and ends

• Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Andrelton Simmons will likely make his Graprefruit League debut during Thursday night's game against the Yankees in Tampa, Fla. The Braves have been extra cautious with Simmons since the Gold Glove shortstop reported to camp with a strained left oblique muscle.

Chris Johnson will return to action during Wednesday's game against the Cardinals. The third baseman has not played since incurring a sore left wrist while taking extra batting practice on Friday.

• With his three-run homer in Tuesday's win over the Mets, Freddie Freeman notched his fourth extra-base hit (two doubles and two homers) within a span of eight plate appearances.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.